University of Minnesota

Omise’eke Tinsley, an associate professor in African and African Diaspora Studies, talks about Haitian American performance artist Mildred Gerestant at a colloquium in Gebauer Monday afternoon. Tinsley delved into various aspects of Gerestant’s performance work as a Drag King.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

Drawing inspiration from Carribean fiction and queer authors, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley, associate English professor at the University of Minnesota, talked to students about sexuality and religious concepts within Haitian Vodou. She described Ezili Freda, a force that protects both the female and male genders, as well as individuals who don’t identify as either gender, while discussing her upcoming book. 

The Center for Women’s and Gender Studies sponsored the talk Monday afternoon at the Gebauer Building.

Tinsley said her unreleased book analyzes concepts of gender within historical Carribean works through the use of complex metaphors. She said she currently draws inspiration from Haitian-American contemporary performance artist MilDred Gerestant.

“Even though I hadn’t finished my first book, I was suddenly inspired to research a new second project: an analysis of 21st century Carribean fiction by queer writers,” Tinsley said. “This dream project dealt into historical novels that imagined complex genders and sexualities through the metaphor of time travel.”

Upon researching the works of queer authors, Tinsley said she discovered there was never mention of the terms queer, lesbian or transgender. Instead they talked about manifestations of these concepts and about spirituality and Afro-Caribbean religion.

“I wanted to reflect on Ezili as spirit but also on Ezili as archive,” Tinsley said. “That is I wanted to evoke the corpus of stories, memories and songs of Ezili as an expansive gathering of the history of gender and sexually variant people of African decent.”

According to Tinsley, the musical style of MilDred Gerestant has recently moved from hip-hop to Haitian Vodou. These performances draw on Hatian divinities including Ezili, in order to mediate on culturally specific imaginations of gender fluidity.

“Her performances integrate masculine and feminine variations in order to creatively embody the limits to global northern vocabularies of transgender,

suggesting an alternative in transcender,” Tinsley said. “That is an engagement with the submerged epistemology of Afro-Carribean religion.”

Tinsley said MilDred’s deceptively simple discussion of Haitian Vodou expresses in her own radiant style a submerged epistemology of gender variance that recasts dominant white opinion.

“All people have the possibility to be simultaneously man and woman, not because gender is constructed or performative but because they are surrounded by male and female spirits at the same time and may temporarily become those spirits at anytime,” Tinsley said.

African and African Diaspora Studies associate professor Lisa Thompson attended Tinsley’s talk. 

“The talk was very eye-opening for me,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a part of her new book and it’s going to be really ground-breaking in terms of making us think about gender in new ways.”

Most people understand the tacos they eat are no more representative of Mexico than pizza is of Italy. Jeffrey Pilcher, a history professor at the University of Minnesota, explained the globalization and global history of Mexican food in a talk called “Planet Taco” on Thursday. Charles Hale, director of UT’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, introduced Pilcher to his audience and said his talk today was a part of a larger series that will officially begin in fall 2011. “Through studying cuisine, we are able to enter into the history of a culture,” Hale said. Pilcher discussed the taco revolution that spread so rampantly because of U.S. companies such as Taco Bell, rather than because of the Mexican population. He also examined the underlying origins of the cuisine itself and its global history, which started with the indigenous people in Mexico, the Mesoamericans and the Spaniards. However, because so many cultures and outside influences have shaped Mexican cuisine from its initial formation, by focusing on the globalization of the taco, we are able to better reflect on its influence on cultures. Pilcher’s “Planet Taco” presentation began by introducing how the globalization of Mexican cuisine has become a recent phenomenon and compared an authentic Mexican taco to that of Taco Bell’s. “The spread of tacos around the world is referred to by sociologists as the process of ‘McDonaldization,’ the corporate process of the rationalization of food and kitchen labor for standardization and efficiency,” Pilcher said. Taco Bell’s founder Glen Bell is credited for initially franchising the taco but, according to Pilcher, was not credited for globalizing the taco itself. Surprisingly, the U.S. military and surfers are responsible for making the taco as popular as it is today. Pilcher said Bell institutionalized the premade taco shell, which allowed the chain to produce tacos much more quickly. UT alumna Amenity Applewhite attended the lecture and said that Mexican food from her home state of New Mexico is surprisingly different from the Tex-Mex so vastly available around UT’s campus. “They use more red and green chilies rather than jalapenos, and it’s over all spicier Mexican food,” Applewhite said. Pilcher said Mexican food takes on a local character in each place it is popular, which explains the difference in New Mexico’s take on Mexican food versus Texas’s approach. Pilcher travels throughout the world trying Mexican food in different countries and cities to acquire material for his Planet Taco presentation. However, he said, the best tacos are found in Mexico.